That '70s Show: Season Seven – DVD Review

Available at Amazon.com

Created by:
Bonne Turner, Terry Turner & Mark Brazill

Cast:
Topher Grace………….. Eric Forman
Laura Prepon…………… Donna Pinciotti
Danny Masterson……… Steven Hyde
Ashton Kutcher……….. Michael Kelso
Mila Kunis………………. Jackie Burkhart
Wilmer Valderrama…… Fez
Kurtwood Smith………. Red Forman
Debra Jo Rupp…………. Kitty Forman
Don Stark……………….. Bob Pinciotti

In hindsight, this show really should have called it a day by this point. Creatively, the most opportune moment to end it was with season five when the kids graduated from high school and went out into the world. Commercially, it was still a rating success and so the network was happy to keep riding it way past the point of no return. They remained completely oblivious about that point even when Topher Grace and Ashton Kutcher gave notice that the seventh season would be their last. The themes of the season are therefore mainly trying to figure out what Eric Forman and Michael Kelso would do that led to them leaving Point Place, whilst following up on the former calling off his wedding to Donna and the latter’s ex-girlfriend giving birth to his child in the previous season. The way they went about handling Eric merely irritated long-term viewers, whilst they wound up simply ignoring Kelso’s departure until well into the next season. They also had to elevate the other characters to fill in the void, particularly Hyde and Jackie, and did a reasonable job at it until cocking it all up the following year. There are still a few worthwhile episodes in here but the decline was gathering ever-more pace…

The Episodes:

Disc One:

“Time is on my Side” – A cheap and cheery, though not especially amusing, set-up for the rest of the season. By this point the writers were running out of ideas so they simply incorporated that into the characters. Red wants to know what Eric plans to do this year but Eric has no idea, so he just decides to take a year off. Neither Eric nor Donna want to angst over their relationship anymore, so they just move on from the wedding fiasco and enjoy one another’s company without added stress. Bob tries to avoid choosing between Pam and Midge until Pam leaves because, well, Brooke Shields is the more expensive guest star. This is also the debut of Donna’s blonde hair, which might as well have come from a bottle of L’Oreal Shark-Jump Colouring.

“Let’s Spend the Night Together” – Kitty succeeds in tracking down Hyde’s real father, William Barnett, who comes to visit – but he’s black! Cue lots of tired jokes about how white people are different-yet-similar from black people. That sort of comedy rarely works unless they can really cut loose with it, like Richard Pryor did. Despite it being a rather lame plot device, Hyde being half-black does seem oddly fitting. As he puts it, it explains his coolness, his ‘fro and his distrust of the man.

“(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” – Kelso’s ex-girlfriend Brooke has given birth to their daughter. It all happens in between scenes, presumably because Shannon Elizabeth had better things to do, so instead we get some rather amusing character development for Kelso. He’s still an idiot and far too irresponsible to be a father but now he has a daughter he’s got too much respect for women to make out with them. His one hope is to inform the father of his would-be partners of his intentions beforehand, which ends badly since he uses words like “violate”. Meanwhile, Red buys the old muffler shop that Eric has vandalized.

“Beast of Burden” -” It’s a veritable job fair as the kids enter the working world. Red offers Hyde a job in the muffler shop, which irritates Eric since the business is called Forman & Son. However, Hyde’s dad offers him a job in his record store business too and Eric is far more content to spend his time catching butterflies. Eric really was turning into a colossal prick by this point. Elsewhere, Fez discovers that dreams can come true as he gets hired to be a shampoo boy at a beauty salon. Imagine, touching girl’s hair without getting into trouble! His gentle lathering techniques soon make Donna and Jackie see him in an entirely new light.

“It’s only Rock and Roll” – The first stand-out episode of the season as Hyde discovers that he won’t be working in an actual record store but will be stuck in a small office with huge piles of meaningless paperwork. Even worse, he has to wear a tie. This leads to a great speech from Red about how Hyde will never be truly happy again, not even during the fleeting moments when it feels as though he is, until he’s nothing but bitter about the hell that is his existence. Ah, the scary truth of office life. Meanwhile, Kelso’s newfound respect for women sees him donating his porn stash to Fez, which has the same effect as Columbia giving all its cocaine to Marty Jannetty. Great stuff. Oh, and Eric’s zany hijink for this episode? Drawing cartoons. Okay then.

“Rip this Joint” – Kitty throws a party to make herself feel better, yet Midge winds up stealing her thunder. Eric’s attempted prank backfires and he spends a night in jail without any trousers. Not much to this one except for trainee cop Kelso’s great line about how prisoners will be punished to the full extent of his imagination. It’s the American way!

“Mother’s Little Helper” – Stunt-casting time, as Lindsay Lohan plays a girl who stands up Kelso to start dating Fez. Lohan was dating Wilmer Valderrama in real life when this was filmed. Thankfully, the episode is redeemed by some great observational comedy as a dejected Kelso attempts to learn how to listen to women. His complete inability to do so without just staring at their chests or thinking about how he could be Spider-Man best friend pretty much sums it up.

Disc Two:

“Angie” – What’s the next logical step to take after introducing Hyde’s long-lost black father? Why, introducing his long-lost black half-sister, of course! Since the episodes for this season were named after Rolling Stones songs, her name is Angie. Well, it beats Sister Morphine. She is understandably upset at all of a sudden having to share her ‘chosen one’ status in William’s business with Hyde but as it turns out she can’t beat Jackie in the bitch stakes, so a truce has to be called when William offers them a record store to run together. The B-plot has Eric taking up roller-disco, which is a ’70s fad they already lampooned when Fez took it up in the third season. Fez brings this up in the episode but it’s still no excuse for recycling old plots.

“You Can’t Always Get What You Want” – It’s a Thanksgiving episode but this isn’t Friends so there’s nothing much going on in it. The record store gets its grand opening as the producers set up a new location for the gang in preparation for Topher Grace leaving, since that would make hanging out in Eric’s basement pretty darn odd. Still didn’t stop them doing it in the eighth season, though. Red and Kitty finally give Eric an ultimatum – think of a direction for your life soon or you’re going to be a chiropracter. Well, whatever works.

“Surprise, Surprise” – On only her third episode, Angie succumbs to Kelso’s charms and hooks up with him. Hyde’s chagrin at the town’s man-whore nailing his sister is rather forced considering he only just met her but, hey, the jokes work. Donna’s feminist fury flares up for the first time in a while when she finds out that Red is giving away nude calendars at the muffler shop. Kitty helps Jackie bake cookies. It’s as much fun as it sounds.

“Winter” – Christmas episode time, which messes up the show’s timeline as they began in 1976 and have somehow fit five Christmas in between then and 1979, which is when this season is set. Anyway, Kitty gets to organize the annual Ladies of Point Place Christmas Party but none of the guys bother to help out much. Kelso takes the big bag of toys that were donated as presents for the local children from the police station, out of stupidity rather than malice, while Red entertains the children with wholesome tales of the Korean War. Jackie gets mad at Hyde for choosing to play with Kelso and the toys instead of coming to the party with her and they have a bigger row than normal.

“Don’t Lie to Me” – Jackie continues her uber-girly freak-out about Hyde not being ready to commit. She winds up pretending to be Donna whilst fake-engaged to Prince Eduardo, who is really Fez, in one of those plot threads with logic that is only acceptable to sitcoms. Hyde is deeply confused by the whole thing when he finds out, while Jackie rages some more until their relationship reaches breaking point. Elsewhere, Eric attempts to earn his ‘pact points’ by getting Angie to break-up with Kelso. This leads everyone to tell their favourite dumb-dumb Kelso stories, many of which involve him gluing himself to things. It almost works but Angie just cannot resist the dumb-dumb charms, especially if it pisses off Hyde.

“Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” – Perhaps the best episode of the series, as they stick to a tight and straightforward story that provides plenty of silly comedy without lapsing into silly plotting. The guys have a stoned conversation about the Russian Death Ray from a Flash comic book, which leads to Kelso calling the White House to prove his point. Unfortunately he completely loses track of the point and winds up threatening the President’s life. Paranoia sets in as they convince themselves that the government is coming to arrest them, so they attempt to smoke the rest of their stash before it can be used to make a case against them. Of course, this just makes them even more paranoid and likely to assault vacuum cleaners. The girls are at a karate class and Red goes ice-fishing with Kitty but it’s the great group chemistry of the boys that makes this one so enjoyable.

“Street Fighting Man” – Donna scores free tickets to a Packers game, so Eric gets to offer one to Red. They actually have a genuine father-son bonding experience at the game, which is rather sweet to see. Hyde’s attempt to get Fez and Kelso to do an ‘old ticket stub switcheroo’ is a running gag but even better is Bob accidentally touching Kitty on an inappropriate, albeit impressive, body part. Another winner.

Disc Three:

“It’s All Over Now” – Wow, Eliza Dushku guest stars. Has she even been in anything since Tru Calling got mercy-killed? She plays a Sizzlin’ Sara, a new DJ whose slutty behaviour renders Hot Donna surplus to requirements. Eric and Donna formulate revenge via a George Carlin record but before that comes to pass Sara gets to host a Tom Jones signing at Hyde & Angie’s record store. Trying to deal with a horde of horny middle-aged women proves too much for Hyde to handle, so he blows off Jackie as she tries to talk to him about getting back together. Even more stressed out is Red, sent there by a flu-stricken Kitty to get an autograph. The pay-off isn’t that great, especially since they tease an Eliza Dushku bikini scene but don’t go ahead with it. Wilmer Valderrama shows what a lucky bastard he is by getting to make out with both Dushku and Laura Prepon in a dream sequence, thus crushing any remaining goodwill towards this one.

“On with the Show” – Eric is at long last forced to confront the dangers of wasting his life after befriending some guy named Stew at the record store. Although they have a great time nerding it up in lengthy debates about superheroes and Star Wars, Stew is 36, unemployed, single, lives at home and his best friend is his ‘mommy’. That’s a good plot but for some reason they overshadow it with Jackie attempting to host her own public-access gossip show. Still, that leads to the debut of special guest correspondent Kelso and his ‘Slut or Not’ segment. Red’s reaction to it (“What the hell happened to this country?”) seems even more appropriate considering how TV has degraded even further since this aired – and that was just three years ago.

“Down the Road Apiece” – Eric rather randomly says he is leaving town to become a travelling documentary film-maker, a profession that Red compares to going ice-skating on rainbows. I suppose they sort of set this up when Eric was reading On the Road in an earlier episode but, hell, not even Donna or Kitty seem all that upset by his sudden decision to leave. He doesn’t get very far of course, yet he does realise he wants to leave Point Place somehow. Hyde and Jackie get back together for no particularly good reason but it’s all cool, man, since Tommy Chong returns here as aged hippy Leo. His character was last seen in season four, after which he left town when he stopped smoking pot long enough to remember he had a wife in another town. In truth, Chong was arrested on drugs charges and spent nine months in jail.

“Oh, Baby (We got a Good Thing Goin’)” – Kelso’s baby, Betsy, finally makes an appearance as last season’s perennial guest star and yesterday’s business Shannon Elizabeth returns as Betsy’s mother, Brooke. It’s his first time taking care of his daughter by himself, so we quickly get the old sitcom staple of the baby crying whenever Kelso holds her until panic subsides at the end of the episode and important life lessons are learned. Aw. Elsewhere, Hyde manages to stay beside Jackie all the way through a car show but Kitty finds Red embracing his inner Nature Boy with a couple of bikini models. It’s always surreal whenever Red gets immature but at least they finally began building to Kelso’s departure here.

“Who’s Been Sleeping Here?” – The baby actually gets mentioned in two consecutive episodes, with Kelso rather randomly being allowed to pick Betsy’s godparents. I guess Brooke, much like everyone else here, doesn’t have a clue what godparents are meant for either. This does of course lead to a rivalry between Donna & Eric and Hyde & Jackie, with Kelso favouring the latter because he thought they would last longer. Well, he was wrong on that front, but he was savvy enough to realise Eric and Donna had been drifting ever since the wedding fiasco. Meanwhile, it transpires that Fez has been kicked out by his exchange family on account of having graduated high school already, so he and Kelso decide to get a place together. The bizarre man-love Fez has for Kelso peaks here.

“Gimme Shelter” – The penny finally drops and Eric realises all his friends now have prospects and he has been left behind. Red’s reaction to this belated revelation is priceless. “You know, it’s just not fair. I mean, you sleep late, you watch TV all day. The job offers should be rolling in!” Picking up on an earlier thread, he makes tentative inquiries into becoming a chiropractor, which would indeed allow him to feel up girls, but that doesn’t go anywhere either. Kelso and Fez searching for an apartment is far more entertaining, since the only suitable one they can find is owned by Fez’s nemesis Fenton, played with bitchy campness by Jim Rash. Despite Fenton’s feud with Fez, he just can’t say no to two men and a baby living together. Hey, someone should write a sitcom about that. Better yet, add a third man and make it into a movie. Of course, the third man cannot be Hulk Hogan. Nobody should start shooting around babies, brutha.

“2120 Michigan Avenue” – Eric’s latest idea is that, since he is good at nothing but can help explain said things to others, he should become a teacher. Unfortunately, he needs to get a pass in gym to complete his high school transcript. You think he might have noticed that since graduation at the end of season five. Even worse, the summer school gym teacher is Casey (Luke Wilson), Kelso’s brother who Donna dated in season four. It’s Red that steals the show again however, as he finally gets to avenge years of the kids messing up his house by going to Kelso and Fez’s apartment and trashing it. The incident with the pillow and the toilet seemed particularly vindictive, which is just classic Red.

Disc Four:

“2000 Light Years from Home” – Eric’s teaching prospects encounter another obstacle, since it turns out Red bought the muffler shop with the college fund he never thought Eric would need. That’s gotta hurt. Thankfully, the creepy guidance councilor with a thing for Donna advises him about a working credit program that will allow Eric to then get his teacher training scholarship. The drawback? It means spending a year in Africa. Red thinks it’ll finally make a man out of him but Kitty doesn’t want him to leave, while Donna and her father are mad that he’s going to leave after she turned down college in Madison to stay in Point Place with Eric last season. Short of anything truly traumatic, it was always going to be difficult to write Eric out of the show without making it seem like he was being far too selfish in his relationship with Donna. Instead, they spent the entire season turning him from a lovable underdog into a whiny loser until he had no other option but to leave town to turn things around. This also marks Angie’s departure from the show, which doesn’t mean much as the character never really added anything in the first place. Character-wise, this leaves Hyde running the record store single-handedly and gives Kelso his first experience of being dumped.

“Take It or Leave It” – The name of a Strokes song as well as a Stones song, I believe. Anyway, the moves just keep on coming as Jackie’s public access show somehow lands her a job offer in Chicago. She promptly offers Hyde an ultimatum – marry her or she’ll leave – and then doesn’t actually bother to stick around to hear his answer. They never actually say what Hyde’s answer would be, though they do strongly hint that he would have agreed to marriage. It’s a good thing they didn’t, since that would be as uncharacteristic as Red embracing communism. Meanwhile, the show prepares for Topher Grace’s departure by introducing Bret Harrison as Charlie, the son of one of Red’s old military friends, although he might as well have been called Eric II. He was going to become a fixture for season eight but a pilot Harrison made got picked up and he wasn’t available. That led to the creation of Randy Pearson, one of the biggest dipshit replacement characters ever, which was admittedly still better than the original idea of having a different actor play Eric. Tsk. The characters still have to prepare for Eric’s departure as well though, which leads to a hilarious drunken night for the guys in Charlie’s dad’s beer warehouse. It’s all good, especially Hyde’s drunken version of ancient Chinese proverbs (“Somethin’, somethin’, somethin’… crazy girlfriend. Somethin’, somethin’, somethin’… drink lots of beer.”).

“Short and Curlies” – This is the episodic equivalent of a headlock in a Randy Orton match as they stall for time before the finale. Eric’s parents and Donna are still coming to terms with his African jaunt. Jackie returns from Chicago to try once again to get Hyde to stop her from going to Chicago. Charlie continues to ingratiate himself into the bumbling idiot role by walking in on a naked Kitty. Twice. The idea is appealing to Bob but it can’t save this episode.

“Till the Next Goodbye” – The episode title is rather prophetic in retrospect. It’s almost as if the eighth season was never meant to succeed. Firstly, Jackie gets Kelso to drive her to Chicago and the two appear to rekindle their relationship before Hyde can come to talk things over with her. I guess that means Kelso is sleeping with his child’s godmother but then he already did that before the birth. Besides, what the hell is a godmother for if she’s not wicked and it’s not in a fairytale? The big goodbye is of course for Eric and there’s a massive pay-off as Red finally discovers what the kids have been doing in the basement all these years. Since Eric is already going to Africa, Red realises that he can’t actually punish him and their relationship finally settles. The father-son goodbye scene is really quite sweet and understated by sitcom standards. After one last round of farewells, Eric is gone, the season is over and so is the show – in spirit if not in fact.

The DVD:

The sound and picture quality are the bog-standard Dolby surround and 1:33:1 frame that most live action Fox shows receive. You don’t watch these sets to be blown away by exceptional A/V. It gets the job done and that’s fine and dandy. Be warned, however, that the case has been slimmed down to just half the size of previous releases so it will look a little odd on the shelf. The flimsly cardboard container seems more damage-prone as well. Also, a note on the cover photo – is that really Ashton Kutcher or his non-union cloned equivalent?

Extras:

Audio commentaries on “Time is on My Side”, “Angie” and “Till the Next Goodbye” by series director David Trainer. He is the only one to have done commentary tracks on any of the DVD releases, which is a real missed opportunity. The cast camaraderie is truly tangible on this show and one of its most appealing traits, so a group track could have been entertaining. Trainer is slightly more talkative here than on previous efforts but, frankly, he’s still rather dull and prone to repeating himself.

Promo spots on all episodes, which amounts to nothing more than watching a trailer for something that you’re just about to watch anyway. How terribly useful.

“Behind the Polyester” – an 8 minute featurette on three of the show’s main writers. It’s basically just a bunch of clips interspersed with soundbites from the writers, who make only banal contributions anyway.

“A ’70s Show Flashback” – these are on each boxset too, with Don Stark getting the spotlight this time around. Again, it’s just 7 minutes of more clips and irreverent comments.

“That Seventh ’70s Season” – a 12 minute featurette full of clips! Yay!

SHOW

The DVD Lounge’s Ratings for
That ’70s Show: Season Seven
CATEGORY
RATING
(OUT OF 10)
6
THE VIDEO

6
THE AUDIO

6
THE EXTRAS

3
REPLAY VALUE

5
OVERALL
7
(NOT AN AVERAGE)

The Inside Pulse
The Show — 6
The Video — 6
The Audio — 6
The Extras — 3
Replay Value — 5
Overall – 6

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